In a Big Country

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In a Big Country

Come up Screaming, here and now.

In1983, Scottish band Big Country released “In a Big Country,” which popularized quickly in the heavy air time given by MTV. Like all classic eighties songs, the piece has that distinct new wave sound, but Big Country uniquely used electric guitars to mimic bagpipes, adding to the song’s longevity. Anthemic and catchy, the song to this day has many nostalgic and new listeners, but perhaps empowering the song most are the meaningful words so often overlooked in the music’s beat and feel. For that message provides us real wisdom — if we listen and apply.

Dreams Stay With You

I can’t speak for most of the world, but in the US and UK, this song held much fascination mainly because eighties youth interpreted “Big Country” as “opportunity.” Dream manifestation has a unique mystique in the western world for the young who see no limitation to their vision. Perhaps it is that way in Eastern countries, I don’t know for sure, but in the US, this boundless sense of dream actualization touches even those often excluded: the poor, the abused, the oppressed, etc. The dream manifestation’s magical thinking tailors many personal visions. The inner-city kid living in poverty might envision college or a job as a life-altering, affluence-bringing goal. The small-town kid might see the move to a big city or larger town as the vision quest. Everyone conjures dreams differently because in that big country, anything is possible.

A Lover’s Voice Fires the Mountainside

The power of hope is amazing. So amazing that many often view dreams as spells capable of altering reality when invoked by faith in their actualization. Seeing hope in this way is easy, sometimes life-affirming, but often disappointing. Yet, hope engulfs us like a conflagration, searing us with purpose, and often provides the only driver to continue, but she is not blind faith or a guarantee of a fantasy.

She fires across the mountainside a choice.

Come up Screaming

In 1999, while attending a martial arts class, I asked a veteran fighter about falling during combat, and he laughed, “You just gotta come up fast, screaming, and swinging.” His phrasing invoked In a Big Country, which ironically described how the last nine years felt recovering from life’s mat after a crappy career, failed marriage, and many other knockouts. Constantly pulling myself up created much futility, hampered by so-called wisdom, especially religion, which I recently discarded. If you tell yourself long enough to “believe” or “faith without works is dead” and many other adages, you’ll either prove these statements false or endure endless disappointment convincing yourself. Standing in the martial arts studio, alone in my doubt, raised the question of why I did certain things like practicing martial arts?

Having taken martial arts years prior instilled a sense of comfort, knowing the practice benefited me in the past with community. Longing that benefit formed a seeming escape from the doldrums of working and coming home to no family and having few friends. Luckily, I met many people and removed myself from that loneliness eating life away, but just as easily, that decision might have failed. Still, martial arts seemed my best alternative at the time.

That night, the big country, became less about faith and more about action, taking the right action, and when in doubt of that action’s correctness, still taking action based on best-choices. Ultimately, our choices should produce more and better choices, dictating,

You must always come up screaming, even if you know you’re going to get knocked back down.

Stay Alive

In 1990, my friend Phil called me wanting to talk, and wrapped in personal problems, I made an excuse not to see him. A few days later, he threaded a cinder block with a chain to weight his body and stepped from a bridge into a reservoir. Phil’s suicide rose out of a bad breakup with a girl who lied about being pregnant, but there were many other issues. His death crushed me with guilt for nearly a decade until finding some peace in that martial arts studio.

In 2001, Stuart Adamson, lead singer for Big Country, committed suicide after suffering issues compounded by addiction. Had Adamson died before that day in the martial arts studio, my cynicism would have deduced the meaninglessness of In a Big Country. Not long before that day, in my days of prayer, faith would have dictated Adamson lost God. By the time he died, I understood suicide as a great mystery since the dead cannot tell us their reasons. We like to think we have complete autonomy over our actions, but social pressures, experiences, disorders, and many other factors weigh heavily on choices. Did Adamson or my friend Phil even have a choice?

We don’t know.

Judging suicide’s decision-making is more imaginative than factual, making a “why” debate somewhat pointless, but perhaps more useless is distilling wisdom from that mysterious act. Entertaining ways the person could have avoided their fate conjures another “what ifs” debate of options that clearly held no possibility for the person at the time.

What we know is the wisdom apparent In a Big Country, here and now. Adamson and his bandmates poeticized hope, giving us an answer we can tap toes with beat, study, and apply to make choices. Here and now, in that place of choice, we grasp Big Country’s message sung so many years before,

I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime
In a big country, dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside

but only if you

Stay alive.

Personally I like the Spotify Version better.

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Big Country ~ Copyright : Mercury/Virgin EMI Records, 1983., Fair use

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